Last year was very eventful in the notebook world. Beyond the UX upheaval brought on by Windows 8 and the blurring of the line between notebooks and tablets, we’ve seen two high-profile entrants to the realm of notebook PC hardware, Razer and Vizio. Both are well established tech companies that have experience shipping high-quality products in their respective gaming and HDTV market areas. This type of thing doesn’t happen very often, and while it’s not on the level of Microsoft jumping into the PC hardware ring, it’s an interesting trend to note.

Contrary to Razer’s focused, single-device launch targeting the gaming market, Vizio jumped into the mainstream PC game head first, debuting three different products—an Ultrabook, a notebook, and an all-in-one. Given Vizio’s history of delivering solid, high-resolution LCD HDTVs on a budget, these systems were pretty highly anticipated, with cutting edge industrial design and high-grade style on a relative budget, but definitely had some usability issues at launch. After the Windows 8 update though, it seemed like some of those issues would be fixed and the post-holiday sales have made them very tempting options in the ultraportable space. Today we’ll be looking at their Thin+Light Ultrabook, which is available in 14” and 15.6” sizes. Ours is the top-spec CT15, which comes with a 15.6” 1080p IPS display panel, an ultra-low voltage Core i7, 4GB of memory, and a 256GB solid state drive.

Vizio Thin+Light CT15-A5 Specifications
Processor Intel i7-3517U
(Dual-core 1.90-3.00GHz, 4MB L3, 22nm, 17W)
Chipset HM76
Memory 4GB DDR3-1333
Note: RAM is not user upgradeable
Graphics Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, up to 1150MHz)
Display 15.6" WLED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(LG Display LGD037E)
Storage 256GB Toshiba THNSNS256GMCP
Optical Drive N/A
Networking 802.11n 2.4/5GHz WiFi (Qualcomm Atheros AR5B22)
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek ALC269
Stereo Speakers
Headphone/Microphone combo jack
Battery/Power 6-cell, 52Wh Li-poly
65W Max AC Adapter
Front Side N/A
Left Side Headphone/Microphone jack
1 x USB 3.0
AC Power Connection
Right Side 1 x USB 3.0
HDMI
Back Side N/A
(Exhaust vent located on bottom)
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 14.9" x 9.9" x 0.68" (WxDxH)
(378.5mm x 251.5mm x 17.3mm)
Weight 3.89 lbs (1.77kg)
Extras HD Webcam
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Price $1199 MSRP
Starting at $904 online (02/13/2013)

It’s a pretty solid spec, even at the relatively high $1199 MSRP, especially when you consider that an equivalently configured Samsung Series 9 Ultra 15” retails for a hair under $1800, with double the RAM but a smaller and lower resolution 15.0” 900p PLS display. The thing is that we’ve seen the CT15 go on a clearance-like sale at the Microsoft Store (and online store) for $799, after a holiday season full of sales—the CT14 has been as low as $649 in the past, though this is the lowest we’ve seen the 15” thus far. That sale appears to have ended (it's no longer listed on MIcrosoft's online store), but it’s also selling pretty freely in the $900 range at Amazon. Even including taxes and shipping, it’s an excellent deal for the hardware involved.

Both the high-end Vizio and Samsung SKUs come with the low-end Core i7 ULV, the i7-3517U, which is clocked at 1.90GHz and turbos up to an even 3.0GHz. As with most Ultrabooks, the graphics are handled by Intel’s on-die HD4000. In the i7-3517U, that means a base clock of 350MHz, and a max turbo of 1.15GHz. The only downer is that the Vizio maxes out at 4GB of non-upgradeable memory. Laptops these days just aren’t meant to come apart easily and many manufacturers have chosen the route of soldered memory in recent times, so this is nothing new, but I think the lack of an 8GB configuration is a pretty unfortunate oversight. In fact, we'd rather see 4GB go away and have 8GB-only SKUs than the reverse, considering the cost of RAM is so cheap.

The selection of ports onboard is pretty disappointing as well—two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, an audio in/out combo jack, and power. That’s it. The one omission that really bothered me was an SD card slot, though I’d love to see another USB port as well. I’m someone who can more than live with the lack of stuff like Ethernet and a Kensington lock, but this is a pretty slim assortment.

It’s worth noting that we’ve been shown the successor to this generation of Vizio notebooks already, which is what is driving down the price right now. The successor to this notebook is a quad-core, touchscreen variant with essentially the same chassis except slightly thicker to incorporate the touch digitizer and thicker aluminum panels for better build quality. Those will hit the market sometime this spring for roughly the same $1200 MSRP of the high-end CT15 we’re reviewing. (It will also technically not qualify as an Ultrabook given the use of a quad-core standard voltage CPU, not that it really matters.)

The CT15 at $900 has a lot of value. We’ve seen a dilution of the Ultrabook class with the second generation of devices; now essentially every thin and light machine in the $600-plus range is either an Ultrabook or closely related to one. HP has the Envy 4 and 6 Sleekbooks, featuring both AMD and Intel processors, some of which qualify for Ultrabook status based on processor and storage configurations. Samsung’s Series 5 follows this same trend, with the NP530 being an Intel-based Ultrabook and the NP535 using the same chassis with AMD silicon. It’s simply cheaper for companies to design one thin-and-light notebook chassis and spec it up or down to meet the various price points. This gives the manufacturers a lot of flexibility, but it also has led to a lot of poor designs and/or mediocre specs in notebooks bearing the Ultrabook label. It’s all too common at the $700 pricepoint to find plastic-bodied ULV i3 and i5 systems with mechanical hard drives, small SSD caches, and poor quality displays (touch or otherwise), all marketed under the Ultrabook brand.

The CT15 is truly a premium Ultrabook class machine though, with a completely aluminum chassis and an IPS display in addition to the fully solid state storage solution. At $900, this is fantastic on paper. Does that impression hold up in real life?

Vizio Thin+Light CT15: Design
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  • tipoo - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    More cache too I believe. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    3MB on i5 vs 4MB on i7, yes. Reply
  • xaml - Saturday, February 16, 2013 - link

    In a Freudian slip of sorts, Dell put an i5 sticker on my XPS 14 (2012) powered by an i7. Reply
  • StephaneP - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    It's all in the subject. I'm surprised that these informations are not in this review. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    With the Windows 8 multitouch driver, I have zero problems with the touchpad on my 3 year old Dell Studio 15, actually it's pretty good. It's not Mac good, but I'd say something like 80% as good which is good enough for me. The bad input rejection is just right, there is smooth scrolling throughout the OS, good pinch to zoom, etc etc.

    So would all Vizios you could order now have a Synaptics pad instead of the horrid old one? How can we make sure?
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    All of the Windows 7 ones came with Sentelic touchpads (CT15-A0, A1, A2), while the Windows 8 ones have Synaptics touchpads (A4, A5). A small, but very important, hardware update that came at the same time as the Windows 8 refresh. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Awesome, thanks. Reply
  • PEJUman - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I have the following systems: 48GB in x58 970, 16GB on H77 3770, 8GB on P45 Q9650, 8GB on Hudson (AMD C-60) and 4GB on QM77 3217 @ Acer W700. the only way I can use more than 4GB on serious use is by disabling PF. (It is disabled on the 8GB+ systems). the 48GB system is actually used for Ramdrives and VMs. I cannot tell the difference between responsiveness under load (simultaneous encodes/virus scans + browsing/word/excel/ppt/matlab) across these devices; with the exception of the C-60, and that thing got 8GB.

    To the ultrabook point, I found 4GB is sufficient for occasional power use (even encoding/rippings via DBpowerAmp, quicksync or handbrake). I think the 4GB + SSD IOPs for PF is a good combo and I can't think of any usage pattern that would need more, esp. when the CPU speeds and/or cores counts less than 4. I actually rather take the $20 discount on price than additional 4GB for my mobile devices, they simply become obsolete way too fast nowdays to held any kind of monetary value. I much rather get them cheap & offload them quickly when I upgrade the next year.

    My mobile devices are mostly throttled (thermally) on loads that can use 4GB+. so I think present ultrabook thermal constraints is the weakest link in their performance, not RAM or PF speeds.

    Huge database on excel, CADs or matlab might cross the 4GB line, but for those you'll probably will be working on a 1600p or multiple 1080p screens (AKA desktop) anyway.
    Reply
  • Netscorer - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I owned briefly their first-gen Thin+Light that was available in October for $600 (talk about value!). same form factor, just slightly downspecced with core i5 and 14" 1600x900 display. Loved form factor! Best ultrabook design right after leaders in ASUS and Apple. The three biggest complaints from the users for that generation were (in order)
    - keyboard
    - battery life
    - lack of ports.

    When I read this review it's like deja vu all over again. Same lackluster keyboard, same disappointing battery life and again no ports beyond bare minimum. Now, if these factors are not critical to you, I would recommend this laptop heartily. It's very sharp looking, has great IPS display and specs that would satisfy all but gamers and developers.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    No, the absolute number one worst thing about the first-gen system was the touchpad, without question. And I mean, this is the same laptop, just with Windows 8 and a new Synaptics touchpad.

    Keyboard and battery are getting fixed with the touchscreen ones, and you can cry about lack of ports all day long but on an ultrabook you're just not going to get any semblance of decent port selection. The only thing I feel like could be a reasonably expected addition is an SD card slot. Just be happy it has a full-size HDMI instead of this smartphone-grade micro HDMI stuff that ASUS is using on the Zenbook Prime.
    Reply

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